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Sunday Times STLive By KGOMOTSO SETHUSHA, 2012-03-11

They're town's heroes - even after 24-0 thrashing

THEY may have been annihilated by 24 goals to nil by soccer giants Mamelodi Sundowns, but Powerlines FC are the toast of the small town of Windsorton in the Northern Cape.

Last Sunday, the fourth-division team were overwhelmed in a Nedbank Cup match played in Kimberley.

But, instead of being overcome by despondency, the once-thriving diamond town on the banks of the Vaal River gave the Powerlines players a rapturous welcome home .

Even though it was a home game for Powerlines, they had to play at Kimberley's GWK Stadium because their grassless pitch is not up to standard for a cup game.

"We played our home game away from home because Kimberley has facilities. We have nothing, as you can see," said team owner Denzil Ontong, who runs a few small businesses in the town.

He manages the team by cellphone and pays the bills from his own pocket.

Soccer is the town's only real social activity, and the club has aspirations of gaining promotion to the third division.

"People are behind us. Unlike in Joburg, they see us as heroes," said coach Cornelius Brandt, who is also the SAPS head of detectives in the town.

He said that , in the past, he had arrested some of his players for "petty crimes". But he was now the players' mentor and had had no problems since.

Brandt had a case to attend in the town's magistrate's court on Monday and, when he walked in, court staff gave him a standing ovation.

Resident Magdeline Kutlwano said she was proud of the team.

While they mightbe the butt of jokes around the country - and even overseas - the people of Windsorton believe they have brought them much-needed publicity.

Ben Botha, an Afrikaans shop owner who describes himself as a big fan, said he was not at all disappointed.

"These are young boys who have done their utmost in the cup competition. They've put Windsorton on the map. Who has ever done that before? We are proud of Brandt and the boys. People out there don't realise what it means for us and for the boys to qualify and play in such a tournament," he said.

For most of the players, soccer is all they have to keep them busy and out of trouble.

Striker Gordon Buys completed his schooling, but cannot study further because he can't afford it.

Thabang Louw, the goalkeeper, dropped out of school at 14 to help his mother raise the family, while defender Conrad Buys is battling to get a driver's licence so that he can get a job.

For Louw, 18, letting in 24 goals is a setback he takes in his stride.

With poverty rife in the area, he has had to do odd jobs to support his family. But he has decided to keep his chin up and not give up on his dreams of playing in the big league.

"I locked myself in a room after the game, but then the pain started to go away. I'm confident things will only get better," he said.

Sundowns travelled to Kimberley by air and to the stadium in an air-conditioned bus. Powerlines, on the other hand, travelled to the city on the back of a bakkie, as they do to all their games.

While Sundowns enjoy a monthly grant of R1.3-million from the Premier Soccer League, Powerlines get nothing.

"It's only when you qualify for the play-offs that you earn R13000," said Ontong. "I spend R15000 a month on the team for transport, kit and food. We even pay the referee R150 to officiate."

As amateurs, Powerlines players don't earn salaries, don't own cars and get no pre-match meals. Life is a perpetual struggle. They don't even get support from the local Dikgatlong municipality. "The municipality told us that sport is last on their list of priorities. They can't even provide recreational facilities," said Ontong.

Despite all these challenges, the people of Windsorton are united in their support. This week, they drew 2-2 in a regional match against Aztec.

For the townsfolk, it was a nice change from the previous Sunday.